Why Light Direction Matters in a Landscape Painting

Landscape painting, in fine art, refers to any drawing or painting that portrays a scenic view as its ‘primary subject’.

Scenery in a landscape painting can be mountains, hills, meadows, trees, rivers, valleys, coastal views, seascapes, and forests. The scenic view that’s portrayed in the painting may be imaginary, a real place, or an idealized scene.

Light and its effect on a painting

When you start working on any painting, the first thing you consider is the direction of light. In a landscape (real-life or painted), light is either from the sun or a deflection from the moon. At times, you may have artificial light from light bulbs or the open sky. For instance, you can have light from a lighthouse or from windows of a lit light.

Light affects every object in a painting and you need to keep this in mind as you start to paint. For this reason, the direction of light plays a vital role in how the objects in the painting will be affected and therefore how they will be portrayed. The way you work the effect of light on the objects in a painting is what gives life and realism to the painting. It is what adds interest to the painting.

Also, you cannot work light effects alone without ‘dark’. Simply put, for light effects to be portrayed, there must be contrast. For instance, it’s not uncommon to find a painter (especially novice painters) struggling to put more light on their clouds.

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They simply keep adding more light color in vain. However, what you they ought to be doing here is to add a shade of dark color around the clouds. When you over-blend, you lose the darker values and hence, the clouds. By adding a bit of dark shade, the clouds will suddenly come out. This is the power of contrast.

Regardless of which area of the painting you’re working on, contrast is still hugely important. You need enough dark around your light areas to accentuate them. Your light areas can only shine with shades of dark.

Importance of light direction

As earlier mentioned, one of the effects of light in any painting is creating realism and interest. However, a truly successful painting should also be able to use the direction of light to further create a sense of realism. Otherwise, if a painting doesn’t portray the direction of light, it may end up almost like a plain, cartoon-like image that you can’t easily make heads or tails of.

Depiction of light direction

The direction of light in a landscape painting is typically depicted in these ways:

Side lighting – this is the light that strikes an object from one side, often occurring in early morning or late evening hours.

Back lighting – this depicts light that hits objects from behind.

Top lighting – just like the name, this depicts light that hits objects from the top. If it’s from the sun, it will occur at noon hours, resulting in smaller ad direct shadows.

On the whole, if a painting is successfully painted to depict light direction, it can only show the artist’s talent as far as working with light is concerned.

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